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Google+ vs. Facebook vs. Twitter vs. ... Part 4: And the Winner is...

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Dr Michael WuMichael Wu, Ph.D. is 927iC9C1FD6224627807Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter or Google+.



my_SXSW_idea_2012.jpgBefore I begin today, I just want to let you know that I've submitted a workshop proposal for SxSWi 2012. The topic is Gamification: From Hype to Science. If you feel this topic deserves the merit and attention at SxSW, I'd like to ask for you help to please vote for my proposal (you may need to create a FREE account to vote). Many thanks in advance.


Alright, this is the last post of my mini-series that analyzes and compares the network properties of the giant social platforms. I started with Facebook, then I looked at Twitter, and in my last post I covered Google+. If you haven’t seen the earlier posts of this series, I highly recommend taking a quick read of the following:

  1. Part 1: The Strength of Bidirectional Connections – Facebook
  2. Part 2: The Danger of a One-Way Fast Lane – Twitter
  3. Part 3: The Plausible Rationales beyond Circles – Google+


In these posts, we covered a lot of network concepts. We talked about the strengths and weaknesses of bidirectional as well as unidirectionally networks. As with any social medium, the democratization of content creation also created a lot of noise (i.e. irrelevant content). So we also discussed the curation mechanism on various platforms. Today, we can finally line them up and compare them side by side to understand their similarities and differences holistically.


The Ultimate Tool for Relationship Management

Facebook and Linkedin are clearly social networks that help people maintain relationships (see Maintaining the Strong Ties). However, they are maintaining different types of relationships in our lives:

  1. Facebook for personal relationships: family, friends, relatives, etc.
  2. Linkedin for professional and business relationships: colleagues, classmate, partners, friends, etc.

Yet, these different relationships are all part of our personal social network, which consists of all the people we interact with and the relationships between them. In real life, our relationships are very complex. Every one of our relationships is unique in some ways. However, both Facebook and Linkedin try to bucket our relationships into very generic categories. (Note: Technically, Facebook allows users to put their friends into groups, but this feature is practically ineffective due to low adoption.)


Google+ fixes this problem via Circles, and it fixes the adoption problem through gamification design (see Part 3: The Plausible Rationales beyond Circles). It definitely packaged a lot of essential social features in a well-integrated platform. +1 to Google+! But is Google+ the ultimate answer for managing our relationship?


Probably not. Although Google+ enables users to put their connections into any number of circles with any granularity, the social circles in our real life are far more intricate. They are nested, overlapping hierarchically, but most important, they are dynamic and context sensitive. I seriously doubt anyone is going to spend the time to replicate their real life social network on Google+, let alone manually adjusting these circles as they change from one context to another. If people are mirroring their physical social network on Google+, and are sharing content to the proper circles, then Robert Scoble shouldn’t be complaining about the noise on the platform. The very fact that there is still so much noise on Google+ is an indication that the circles on Google+ is far from those in reality, because we clearly don’t experience such high level of noise in our real life.


There is one critical limitation on Google+ I like to point out. Right now, it is not very easy to exclude an individual or several circles from my shares. For example, I can’t easily share to all my connections except my relatives in Taiwan, or all my college buddies except the one birthday girl that we are trying to surprise. Facebook has these types of exclusion features, but again, they are not well adopted. In fact, Facebook has a lot of the features that Google+ offers. They are just not well integrated and not very easy to use. Remember... simplicity is crucial. It is the one factor of gamification that people often overlooked.


External Infrastructures

Technology alone cannot solely determine the winner. To get a more complete picture, we must also consider the business ecosystem beyond the social principles and network properties that are built into these platforms. Facebook has been around for 8 years and they have a large network of partners and developers who have built apps and business on the Facebook platform. Some of these partners (e.g. Zynga) even spawned a whole industry of their own (e.g. social gaming). Likewise, Twitter (5 years old) strategically opened a sampling of their data through their public API. This resulted in a huge ecosystem of software apps, tools, services as well as businesses, and this Twitterverse infographic is merely scraping the frost on the tip of the iceberg. These business relationships are not going to disappear overnight.


Google+ (being an ultra-secret project that launched only a month ago) clearly doesn’t have any of these external infrastructures yet. But let’s not forget that Google has been around for 13 years, and Google+ can certainly leverage the breadth of business relationships from its mother ship. For example, Google+ just introduced games last week.


trophy.jpgSo, who is going to win at the end? Being a scientist, I hate to play a fool’s game, especially when there is little data. But if I have to speculate, I would say that social networking services will probably become a fragmented market without a single dominant player. As you can see, Google+, Facebook, Linkedin, and even Twitter have their unique strength and their niche in the market. The only clear winner I can see is the consumers.


Disappointed at the answer? I did warn you last time.  🙂  The reason is because I strongly believe in a modest amount of healthy competition, which drives innovation, differentiation, and specialization. As the social networking industry matures, interoperability will ultimately bring better services to the end users and give them more choices.



We have covered a lot of network concepts over the course of this mini-series. Rather than summarizing everything in words, I decided to create an illustration that summarizes the main points we’ve discussed (see Figure 1). This image is hyperlinked and clickable. I must say that I’m not a graphic artist by training, so I hope you can forgive my bare attempt.




This mini-series was originally a single very-long article. I decided to split it up due to its length. I also wanted to experiment with a more frequent posting schedule. Did you like this short episodic presentation, or would you have preferred seeing the whole article at once? Let me know and I will definitely try to accommodate in the future.


Well, this concludes my mini-series on the network analysis of the popular social platforms. See you next time. Don't forget to vote for my SxSW proposal...



About the Author
Dr. Michael Wu was the Chief Scientist at Lithium Technologies from 2008 until 2018, where he applied data-driven methodologies to investigate and understand the social web. Michael developed many predictive social analytics with actionable insights. His R&D work won him the recognition as a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine. His insights are made accessible through “The Science of Social,” and “The Science of Social 2”—two easy-reading e-books for business audience. Prior to industry, Michael received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley’s Biophysics program, where he also received his triple major undergraduate degree in Applied Math, Physics, and Molecular & Cell Biology.
Frequent Commentator
Frequent Commentator

Hi Mke!

Thx for this final!

Why not 1 image instead 3?

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello Andrei,


Thanks for the comment.

The single image is split into 3 to make it easy to link the image to the corresponding post. 

Try clicking on the different parts of the figure, it brings you to the post about that social platform.


See you next time.

Not applicable

I liked the post being split into parts. Less commitment = greater chance to finish it in it's entirety.

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello Hunter,


Thank you for voicing your preference. This is definitely a valuable data point.

I will definitely try to do more of these shorter episodic posts in the future.


Honored Contributor
Honored Contributor

I liked the shorter mini-series format.  It gave me some time to think about what I had read before the next part came out.

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello Jane,


Glad to see your comment here, and thank you for voicing your preference too.


That is 2 to nothing in terms people who prefers bunch of short episodic blog post rather than a single long article. Thanks again for the comment and also the double weight kudo. Hope to see you next time.

Hans Leijström
Not applicable

Thank you Mike for sharing your knowledge to the world. Great conclusions and summary, as always. I also like your infographic (I love them!). Some things which currently are missing in your infographic, from my point, of view is a left hand category for a) the main purpose for users to join b) the primary business model(s) and c) hard facts like the year of birth, the reach, number of users, time to reach profit etc. Looking forward to your next post!

Lithium Alumni (Retired) Lithium Alumni (Retired)
Lithium Alumni (Retired)

Hello Hans,


Nice to see you here.


Thank you for the comment and suggestion. I think that is a great addition for the infographic. However, for this article, I want to focus on the network properties and the social principles of these platforms. There are already plenty of people talking about feature, usage (business or personal), design, etc. I feel that I don't need to say something that people can find elsewhere on the internet.


So I focus on the more scientific aspect of networks, how they form, and what properties emerged (e.g. noise, growth rate, etc.). These are property of the network and is independent of the business and usage, which may depend on the company's resource and marketing, and the social norm of the predominant users. In other words, the properties I discussed are intrinsic to the network. It doesn't matter what the network is, how people use it, who build it, who owns it, how they market it, etc. they will always exhibit these properties if the network is created in a certain way.


Strickly speaking, I should not even talk about the business aspects of these platform, since those are not really the fundamental properties of the network. But I guess most audience probably are less interested in the science than the business. However, what I like to argue is that there are fundamental property of the network that cannot be change no matter what the business do. For example, If you build a unidirectional network, you will have a noise propblem. And it doesn't matter if you are Twitter, Google, Quora, etc. Even for Facebook. If Facebook switch to unidirectional consent, they will experience a much bigger noise problem than they have today. And there is really nothing that the business can do about it since they are the fundamendal property of the network.


I certainly hope I get these points across.


Anyway, thank you for commenting and retweeting. Hope to see you again next time.